Lagos: Nigerians had little sympathy for their national soccer team on Thursday, saying their two-year withdrawal from international competition was well-deserved punishment for their embarrassing showing at the World Cup.
President Goodluck Jonathan on Wednesday suspended the national team, which was knocked out in the first round of the World Cup after failing to win a match, from all competitions for two years to allow for a rebuilding process.
“It is a good thing that the government came out to intervene in football,” said Benjamin Chidebere, a civil servant in Lagos.
“Football unites all Nigerians. If you a Yoruba man, a Hausa man, an Ibo man, football makes us drink together,” he added, referring to some of the country’s more than 250 ethnic groups.
Newspaper editorials and soccer fans attributed part of the team’s failure to corruption, which is endemic in Africa’s most populous country.
“It is good that the aged and tired team has been disbanded,” the Punch newspaper said in an editorial.
“But the government should immediately go further to fight the monsters of greed and graft in the football administration, which are at the heart of the poor performance at global competitions,” it added.
Jonathan has ordered the accounts of the country’s World Cup organising committee be audited and any officials found responsible of wrongdoing be punished.
A presidency source said the government earmarked more than 2.5 billion naira (£11.2 million) for the World Cup organisers, soccer team members and coach, a large sum in a nation where most ordinary citizens live on less than $2 a day.
The government instruction to withdraw could prompt sanctions from FIFA, who have taken a strong stand against political interference in the sport.
But some believed Nigeria’s soccer team would benefit in the long run even if they are punished by FIFA.
“Even if FIFA goes ahead to slam this ban on Nigeria, it is but a little price to pay for a decision that may well return Nigeria to its glorious past in football,” said the Action Congress, an opposition political party.
Other Nigerians worried that the ban would seriously hinder opportunities for the country’s young soccer players.
“The decision was made in haste,” said Otunba Olatunde, national chairman of the Nigeria Football Supporters Club.
“They should have asked the old players to leave and bring in new players. Let them play friendly matches so that the young players can be groomed.”